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Classical Notes

Happy birthday, Richard Strauss! From your fan, Elvis Presley

Posted at 1:26 PM on June 11, 2014 by Jay Gabler
Filed under: Fun finds

On today, Richard Strauss's 150th birthday, lots of people are remembering the composer's big pop-culture breakthrough when the introduction to Also sprach Zarathustra was featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Thanks to that placement, Strauss's music later opened a stage spectacular that was perhaps even stranger than the far frontiers of Stanley Kubrick's film.

When Elvis Presley opened a new run of shows in Las Vegas in 1971, writes biographer Peter Guralnick in Careless Love, Presley's band began welcoming the King onstage to the strains of Strauss in an arrangement by Joe Guercio.

"Guercio's wife, Corky, had suggested to him half-jokingly that the music reminded her of Elvis, and to his surprise, the orchestra leader agreed. When it turned out that Elvis, too, had had the same idea, they started fooling with it during the winter engagement, using it as a kind of overture to bring Elvis onstage sometimes, sometimes actually interrupting the show at Elvis's instigation just so the rhythm section could try it on the audience. Now, with Elvis's encouragement, Guercio developed the idea on a grand orchestral scale.

"'We set it up to the point where you got to the last chord, and the tympanist played the final set of eight notes, and it would build to such a frenzy that it was orgasm time from then until Ronnie Tutt [Elvis's drummer] took over — it was like the ultimate orgasm.' That was how Elvis reacted to it, too: 'he didn't want to be just a guy walking out there, he wanted to be a god.' And with the 2001 theme, he was."